Western Europeans can expect to live nearly a decade longer than their Eastern counterparts

La vida es dulce in Spain
La vida es dulce in Spain
Image: AP Photo/Francisco Seco
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Mediterranean countries are living up to longevity stereotypes in this week’s report (pdf) on life expectancy from the European Commission. Spain and Italy came top of the ranking with an average life expectancy at birth of 83.3 and 83.2 respectively.

The 2016 Health at a Glance report found that life expectancy rose from 74.2 years in 1990 to an average of 80.9 in 2014 across the EU as a whole. However, while people in Western Europe can look forward to 80-plus years of life, those in Central and Eastern EU member states don’t fare so well: Latvians and Bulgarians have a life expectancy at birth of just 74.5 years.

The key reasons for this big gap is mainly down to income disparity and access to good, timely health care. In 2013, over 1.2 million people in the EU died from illnesses that could have been avoided with better health care. In Cyprus, Greece, Bulgaria and Romania, more than 10% of the population is not properly covered for health care.

The report notes that EU member states have very different levels of awareness and prevention policies when it comes to tackling problems like lung cancer, heart attacks strokes, and alcohol-related diseases.

Despite efforts to stop people smoking—via awareness campaigns, bans, and taxes on cigarettes—more than one in five adults in EU countries smokes daily. Same goes for alcohol—in 2014, more than one in five adults reported drinking heavily at least once a month. Obesity has risen from one-in-nine adults in 2000, to one-in-six in 2014.

Europe’s aging population is going to become an increasing strain on the health care systems in the decades to come. The share of the EU population over 65 was almost 20% in 2015 and is expected to hit 30% by 2060.